A New Way to Teach Entrepreneurship: Class 1 at Stanford’s Lean Launchpad

3/8/11Follow @sgblank

For the past three months, we’ve run an experiment in teaching entrepreneurship.

In January, we introduced a new graduate course at Stanford called the customer development, agile development, business model generation and pivots.

We thought it would be interesting to share the week-by-week progress of how the class actually turned out. This post is part one.

A New Way to Teach Entrepreneurship

As the students filed into the classroom, my entrepreneurial reality distortion field began to weaken. What if I was wrong? Could we even could find 40 Stanford graduate students interested in being guinea pigs for this new class? Would anyone even show up? Even if they did, what if the assumption – that we had developed a better approach to teaching entrepreneurship – was simply mistaken?

We were positing that 20 years of teaching “how to write a business plan” might be obsolete. Startups, are not about executing a plan where the product, customers, channel are known. Startups are in fact only temporary organizations, organized to search–not execute–for a scalable and repeatable business model.

We were going to toss teaching the business plan aside and try to teach engineering students a completely new approach to start companies – one which combines customer development, agile development, business models and pivots. (The slides below and the syllabus Jon Feiber and Ann Miura-ko), what if I was wasting their time? And worse, what if I was going to squander the time of my students?

I put on my best game face and watched the seats fill up in the classroom.

Mentors

A few weeks before the Stanford class began, the teaching team went through their Rolodexes and invited entrepreneurs and VCs to volunteer as coaches/mentors for the class’s teams. (Privately I feared we might have more mentors than students.) An hour before this first class, we gathered these 30 impressive mentors to brief them and answer questions they might have after reading the mentor guide which outlined the course goals and mentor responsibilities.

As the official start time of the first class drew near, I began to wonder if we had the wrong classroom. The room had filled up with close to a 100 students who wanted to get in. When I realized they were all for our class, I could start to relax. OK, somehow we got them interested. Lets see if we can keep them. And better, lets see if we can teach them something new.

The First Class

The Lean LaunchPad class was scheduled to meet for three hours once a week. Given Stanford’s 10 week quarters, we planned for eight weeks of lecture and the last two weeks for team final presentations. Our time in class would be relatively straightforward. Every week, each team would give a 10-minute presentation summarizing the “lessons learned” from getting out of the building. When all the teams were finished the teaching team lectured on one of the 9 parts of the business model diagram. The first class was an introduction to the concepts of business model design and customer development.

The most interesting part of the class would happen outside the classroom when each team spent 50-80 hours a week testing their business model hypotheses by talking to customers and partners and (in the case of web-based businesses) building their product.

Selection, Mixer and Speed Dating

After the first class, our teaching team met over pizza and read each of the 100 or so student applications. Two-thirds of the interested students were from the engineering school; the other third were from the business school. And the engineers were not just computer science majors, but in electrical, mechanical, aerospace, environmental, civil and chemical engineering. Some came to the class with … Next Page »

Steve Blank is the co-author of The Startup Owner's Manual and author of the Four Steps to the Epiphany, which details his Customer Development process for minimizing risk and optimizing chances for startup success. A retired serial entrepreneur, Steve teaches at Stanford University Engineering School and at U.C. Berkeley's Haas Business School. He blogs at www.steveblank.com. Follow @sgblank

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  • http://www.matr.net Russ Fletcher

    I wish I’d had this opportunity when I got my MBA. Congratulations on a great model, especially the focus on mentors at the beginning.

  • Zebediah

    This is a really great course concept but it seems like students would get a lot more out of a Lean Startup Machine or some other “jump right in” approach. Introducing artificial grading pressures for various behaviors seems like it would dilute the learnings while maintaining a gap between “school” and “the real world” that doesn’t need to exist for startups.

  • http://blog.epmworld.in Ram

    Great approach, indeed.

  • http://www.ResearchPAYS.net Tom Kadala

    I see a fundamental flaw in this design. It lacks a sense of collaboration with existing problems, solutions, and similar teams. I would suggest developing a network of entrepreneurs across multiple schools worldwide that can connect ideas from the lab with existing companies and initiatives in their respective geographic locations. Only then will this concept leverage what is out there already and teach young entrepreneurs to reach beyond the classroom.

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  • http://entrepreneur-talk.com/ entrepreneur

    I hope you will continue your same best work and we will get more informative post which can helpful to us. Thanks for this

  • http://www.fixtro.com Deepak Sharma

    I like the process, atlest it gets you to think the way you should. Many times we ignore the most obvious. By learning in this fashion may help in eliminating that issue. Moreover, you have a mentor to look over your shoulders.